Blustery winter days are perfect for assessing our mission, reviewing our progress and for setting goals for the coming season. Strengthening our homestead's capacity to supply our family food needs extends to seed production and corresponds well with our commitment to a staple crop focus. Assured in our ability to harvest viable seeds for many grain, legume, and squash varieties, we aim to improve our skill in the realm of the biennials which need two growing seasons to produce their seeds. A goal over the next few years is seed self-sufficiency for cole crops, such as cabbage, and for beets and other root crops.
The barn's curling rooftop snow is one of Mother Nature's reminders that growing biennial crops in Michigan for seed involves successfully overwintering “parent” plants, protecting them from winter's harsh touch. Our two-chamber root cellar allowed us to store beets from our 2017 harvest to plant for 2018 seed production. Unfortunately after we planted out our parent beets they were heavily damaged by hungry critters so our seed harvest was modest. We remain determined however, and this coming season we will plant our home-grown beet seeds. We are excited (and a bit anxious) to discover what grows from our efforts. As we are committed to producing 100% of the seeds we sell, we anticipate needing at least two more growing seasons before we can confidently offer our beet seeds. As to other root crops, we've been asked to include carrot seeds in our inventory. Carrots are biologically the same as the abundantly wild Queen Anne's Lace which puts carrots at the bottom of our priority list for now.
With respect to cabbage or other cole crops, in addition to the biennial overwintering requirement, we are challenged in that one species, Brassica oleracea, is represented by seven different crop types. Cabbage, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, collards and broccoli are all Brassica oleracea! The fact they are pollinated by insects means active measures to avoid contamination of pollen are required. Currently our plan is to work with kale and cabbage; but again, as with beets, we cannot confidently offer seed of these crops until we experience several successful growing seasons. We will use this year to trial numerous varieties to determine which one(s) will progress to our seed production project.
Production of seed for biennial varieties forces us to reflect on our 100% homestead grown policy. “Why don't you just do what most seed companies do and sell repackaged seed?” We understand why this is common practice, especially after the recent conferences we attended. Many crops are finicky in their requirements to produce top-quality seeds. Specialized growing regions exist for them so it is advantageous to buy seeds wholesale from reputable growers in those areas. Most companies also prefer to have a more extensive inventory. We rely on them for our own garden needs for varieties whose seeds we have yet mastered. Our dedication to homestead self-sufficiency and our strong conviction in the importance of a local seed stock greatly influences what we sell. We do not envision Great Lakes Staple Seeds offering as broad a crop diversity as our colleagues. Our mission is to focus on raising robust staple crops suitable for the Great Lakes region and to excel at harvesting high-quality, regionally adapted seeds from them to offer to you, our fellow gardener.